It's already been documented to death the difference between Burnett's numbers pitching to Molina vs. pitching to Posada so I'll skip that here. The real indicator of how well he's throwing and how well he feels on the mound is how quickly A.J. works when he's on the mound. Whether it's Molina, Posada, or Elston Howard behind the plate, when A.J. doesn't have it, he slows the game down to a Joba-like crawl, constantly stepping off the mound and shaking off his catchers, which leads to multiple visits and discussions.
I don't expect A.J. to throw a perfect game tonight. At some point, he's going to put runners on base. The true litmus test of what he's got tonight is going to be his speed on the mound with runners on. If he's making pitches and feeling good about his command, he'll keep working fast even if he gives up a hit or walk here or there. It's when he's throwing junk and knows he's throwing junk that he gets skittish and starts second-guessing himself.
It will probably take until the 2nd or 3rd inning to really be sure, but if somebody gets on early in one of those innings and we still see Burnett up on the rubber ready to throw, we'll know all is well. If he's walking around, throwing to first, and Molina has to make more than one trip to the mound in any given inning, then it's time to get Alfredo Aceves up.
2) The Yanks' approach against Nick Blackburn.
Nothing about Blackburn's season numbers blow you away, but nothing stands out as a glaring weakness to the kid's game either. He's pitched in big games before and comes into the postseason throwing well over his last 4 starts, but pitching in Yankee Stadium, even the new Yankee Stadium, is a whole different animal and whether he shows it or not, there's going to be some nerves involved.
For the season, Blackburn has a .290 batting average against and the Yankee offense had no problem throughout the season attacking pitchers early in the count and pounding the ball all over the field or waiting them out, bleeding the count, and having the starter hit the showers after 100+ pitches in 5 innings. Will the Yanks try to jump on Blackburn early in the count knowing he throws a lot of good pitches to hit? Or do they wait him out and test the waters the first time or 2 through the lineup the way they did with Duensing in Game 1 and then unleash the hounds in the middle innings?
3) The Crowd.
I know I'm beating a deader than dead horse here, but the crowd in Game 1 was the weakest playoff crowd I can remember since I became old enough to notice things like that in a game. You could barely even hear the first inning role call coming from the bleachers in the top of 1st.
Hopefully Game 1's win helped restore a little faith in the Yankee faithful and they will be more active tonight, because they could hold a big influence over the first 2 factors; if they are loud and rowdy early, it could help shake Nick Blackburn up, and if they get behind A.J. early, it could help him settle in.
One thing is for sure, there better not be any sitting around and waiting until there are 2 outs and 2 strikes to cheer. It's the fucking playoffs, for God's sake!! Get up off your asses and get your money's worth!
4) How Joe Manages the Game.
With all the press being given to the Molina-for-Posada controversy, it will be interesting to see how Joe handles A.J. and Molina tonight. A.J. should be in his comfort zone out there at home with his favorite catcher, but if he doesn't have it, how long does Joe wait to go get him? Both Aceves and Gaudin will be ready to go for multiple innings tonight and all hands should be on deck with the exception of maybe wanting to limit Hughess and Mo's pitch count after Wednesday night. Knowing that, I would, and I certainly hope Joe would, have no problem taking Burnett out in the 4th or even the 3rd inning if he's awful. Joe did everything he could to baby A.J. and make him comfortable, but it's about winning the game and he has to do what he has to do to win it.
On the other side of that coin, if A.J. pitches well but the Yankees are down in the 5th or 6th inning with runners on and Molina due up, does Joe pinch hit Jorge in that spot, hoping he will get the clutch hit that Molina almost certainly wouldn't? And then after that, does he leave A.J. in to pitch to Jorge or do you go right to Dave Robertson or Aceves? Not to mention the pinch runner factor. If Molina gets on base in the 5th or 6th inning and I need a run, I'm taking him out for Brett Gardner without even thinking about it and telling Jorge to get his gear on.
Like I said, it's about winning the game at this point. Jorge's feelings were hurt and A.J.'s were taken into great consideration for tonight's game, but as soon as the first pitch is thrown, all of that should go out the window and the focus should only be on what players give our team the best chance to win this game.
5) George Steinbrenner.
Where the hell was he on Wednesday??? We all know George is a fragile shell of his former self, but I would imagine he's still competent enough to realize his team was back in the playoffs and would want to see them in their first postseason game at the new Stadium. And yet, not once did a camera catch any shots of him up in his box, sunglasses on, looking down half-alive, half-dead at the game.
Jeter expressed how much the team wants to win this title for George; everybody knows he's on borrowed time right now. It would add a little more buzz to the atmosphere tonight to flash him up on the big screen in the first inning and let everyone give him a cheer.
He's old, he's frail, he might think it's the 1978 season again, and he's probably got a big dump in his pants right now, but he's still The Boss, damnit, and I want to see him at the game tonight. So Hank and Hal, I don't care how you do it, get Georgie Boy to the game and in his rightful spot watching over his creation from his perch.
**Check back here after the game for post-game analysis**